Cultural associations are worth our time

It was an eye-opening experience, and I felt like an anomaly in my efforts to find my place in the larger Laurier community.

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Coming to Wilfrid Laurier University was a major adjustment for me. I come from the Greater Toronto Area, arguably one of the most diverse locales in Ontario.

However, Waterloo would not be defined in equal terms. So it comes as no surprise that when I gazed into packed lecture halls I found I was a lone brown face in a sea of white.

It was an eye-opening experience, and I felt like an anomaly in my efforts to find my place in the larger Laurier community.

Most might deduce that the obvious solution to this problem would have been to transcend racial barriers and befriend those with whom I shared interests and passions.

For the most part this is what I did. I joined clubs, got a job and established a semblance of a social life. But that’s not what is remarkable about this story.

In my attempts to transcend racial barriers, I consciously made an effort to avoid organized cultural organizations like the Association of Black Students. People are most drawn to those who look like them; it’s a simplified notion but true as a matter of familiarity. I identify as a black woman and am proud of that aspect of my identity, but somehow I bought into the notion that by avoiding outward racial affiliation I was taking the social high ground.

I was better than labels and above narrow categories of identity. In reality, I was afraid of being put into a box. I was afraid of people who would be mutually exclusive and oppositional to outsiders.

I was afraid of being associated with all that blackness. I didn’t know what to expect from these people who looked like me but who, on a much deeper level, represented a diverse spectrum of cultures, nationalities and experiences.

Somewhere between wilful arrogance and ignorance, I realized that few of my efforts were exacting change in my social circles. I wasn’t effectively fighting the status quo by avoiding one of the only representations of racial solidarity on campus.

My efforts served as a type of ethnic blending instead of an expression of racial progression. I realized these internalized fears of the unknown had to be faced. I joined ABS and I haven’t looked back.

I have learned that the diversity of experience, race and cultures is celebrated in this association. The association is filled with people of all races who enrich the inclusivity and experience of all its members.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the discussion, energy and passion displayed by these people. No group of people is perfect, but ABS has definitely exceeded my misguided expectations.

Despite my past inclinations and assumptions, I have grownn to learn that ABS and other culturally specific clubs and associations are places where one can find community.

I hope students would not dismiss the opportunities to discover the nuances of experiences found in these communities, while challenging their own misconceptions in the process.


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